red lights


A rock 'n' roll Jekyll and Hyde

Susan Tedeschi
Milwaukee, WI
July 1, 2006
Susan Tedeschi
Publicity Photo

Story by John Halverson

Walking on to the Summerfest stage Saturday, dressed in heels and a purple dress that accents her pale skin, Susan Tedeschi looks like a wallflower at the prom and for about three-quarters of her concert she acts the part. But then, after more than a few of her fans had left their front row seats, an amazing transformation occurs. Tedeschi walks past the speakers to the front of the stage, grabs the neck of her guitar like a soon-to-be-beheaded bird and starts to rip through the cords like the strings were on fire. In her hands, this piece of wood and string turns raunchy and wickedly good and seems to serve as an aphrodisiac to her voice and persona.

Her face, previously passive and uninteresting, becomes animated, twinging and wincing with each note. Her voice, far too civilized so far, starts to crackle and pop and break in all the right places. Like Bonnie Raitt, with whom she is often compared and who long ago abandoned her blues roots to take the middle ground, Tedeschi's guitar is anything but lady-like. But unlike Raitt, whose distinctive sound, while still lively, has grown a bit predictable in live performance, Tedeschi's guitar sound seems to be becoming more original and spontaneous.

Before her guitar cloudburst, relying too much on the soul covers from her latest CD, Tedeschi sounds every bit the blues to pop-crossover act she seems to be becoming. "Sweet Forgiveness" and "Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever" are pleasant enough on a CD, but an outdoor festival like Summerfest, soaking in beer and humidity, is ripe for more of a garage-band energy. Keyboardist William Green added the electricity Tedeschi couldn't seem to summon--as though it was his job to keep the beat going before Tedeschi woke from her slumber. More than occasionally, his long limbs rose to the air like some winged beast and his fingers pounded the keys like a later-day Jerry Lee Lewis.

Early in the concert in songs like "Evidence" and "Security" she showed flashes of a beguiling mastery. Her guitar riffs railed impetuously yet were reeled back into submission before going off the deep end. By her last song, the driving "I Fell in Love," from an earlier album, Tedeschi finally hit her full stride. Each rip of her guitar tore through the crowd and the edginess of blues-tinged voice cut the hot Summerfest air like a scythe. Too bad the night was ending instead of just starting. Too bad her guitar didn't come alive earlier. If it had, I'd still be listening.

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